One of the hallmarks of Igbo cultural practices is the concept of being your brother’s keeper. Within the framework of this concept, times immemorial, beginning from our forefathers, many people have helped their brothers, neighbours, and other near and distant family relations in several ways.
In the whole Igbo nation- Imo, Abia, Anambara, Enugu, Ebonyi and among Igbo nationalities in Rivers and Delta, the practice of being your brother’s keeper is general and rampant.
Many years ago even recently, well to do members of the family or the community have taken boys and girls of their relations or distant relations or children of their kinsmen, distant nephews and nieces to train them in various economic ventures.
The practice of taking a relative if only to help bring up such children is rampant.
From a little research, it could be found out that before Independence in 1960, half of those who traveled overseas to attend universities and colleges were beneficiaries of patriotic Igbo (Not Igbo’s) one can say, of those graduates mostly educated overseas were beneficiaries of patriotic Igbo citizens.
However, as time went on since those beneficiaries were not liberal in reciprocating those gestures made it difficult for this practice of “being your brother’s keeper” to begin to wear down.
More than that, then and only then, some young boys were taken on ground to be trained and given kind of trade in many areas of technical knowhow. For example, many were taken to Onitsha, Cameroon, Gabon, Ghana and many other towns and cities within and outside Nigeria to learn different types of trade.
Many began as houseboys, apprentices-Mechanics, and artisans of various trades or trading on different types of market wares.
The practice was that once such a male apprentice has succeeded and became free, the reward was astonishing. In many cases, the masters would furnish the person with a shade or a store full of articles with blessing. In few instances, some loyal and obedient servants were even helped to get married.
This practice of being your brother’s keeper began to wear down as many of the servants introduced disobedience, disloyalty, pilfering or behaviors against the ethos of serving.
In some cases, determination of such relationships would lead to police actions or family feud. Sometimes, some wicked masters would introduce harsh and unfriendly relationship to their servants when it was time for him to be rewarded. This has resulted in the diminishing concept of being your brother’s keeper.
It must be said that such relationship of servants from the Igbo heartland-Mbaise, Mbano, Ngwa, etc did not do well in the relationship with their masters hence they got raw deals at the end of the whole relationship.
On the other hand, servants from Anambara and Abia axis were generally known to be very loyal and submissive hence, they were appropriately and richly rewarded.
Today, the concept of being your brother’s keepers has diminished for three main reasons. Firstly, those who were beneficiaries of this concept eventually did not reciprocate such magnanimity.
Secondly, the homogeneity of Igbo families has been shattered due to so many elements such as hardship and limited resources in fewer hands.
Thirdly, servants these days are generally disloyal, dishonest and more often than not, display the attitude of “Boyee ka nna ya Ukwu” (A servant that is bigger than his master.)
Today, the cost of maintaining the family of one, two, three or four is challenging, prohibitive and disheartening. Parents today find it difficult to feed their children satisfactorily not to talk of being your brother’s keeper.
Perhaps, demands from kit and kin have become too challenging, to the extent that people can’t even take care of their children let alone being brother’s keepers.
In fact, and on serious note, social cost has become prohibitive. An average family head has too many commitments from taking care of his children, spending for family contributions for burials, village contributions, family levies, demands from sisters married outside, multiplicity of series of contribution including village and church levies.
In fact, the cost of living today is either too challenging or prohibitive. The resultant effect is that economically and socially, people have resulted to, “To your tents o Israel.”
Finally, and however, being your brother’s keepers is a core aspect of our culture and must not be jettisoned on the altar of economic and social imperatives.